Nicolas Roeg’s adaptation of the 1950’s book by James Vance Marshall is a tricky film; it certainly feels very 1970, which is a good thing. Edward Bond fashioned a 16 page script from the original text, allowing Roeg to do his fragmentary thing and explode the narrative via ingenious editing, off-beat digressions and a weird apocalyptic feel. And yes, in the UK, watching this Roeg movie was somehow part of many kids childhood; despite a AA certificate, Walkabout was not only a tv perennial but also widely shown on VHS in classrooms, despite nudity from pretty much the whole cast and graphic violence to human and animals alike.
No names are required for this kind of pre-Deliverance parable. A businessman is driven to suicide by the madness of the world, and decides to take his kids with him; the Girl (Jenny Agutter) and the Boy (Luc Roeg, the director’s son) have to make their own way home through the outback desert. They are assisted by a teenage Aborigine (David Gulpilil) who shows them how to avoid the stark sunshine, find water and kill animals; it’s a coming of age story for all three, or so it seems until a misunderstanding leads to an untimely death…
Seen in 2022’s HD, Walkabout is as stunning to look at as ever, with Roeg acting as his own cameraman and snapping remarkable images of the seething metropolis, and capturing the harsh beauty of the outback by contrast. The BBFC decided that there was nothing sexual about the nudity, a generous interpretation given how sexual a film as a whole is. It’s fortunate that Walkabout was given a free pass as ‘art’, but trigger warnings should be attached; the camera seems to seek out Agutter’s form constantly, and often with specific intent of showing how the boy views her.
Roeg’s early films are his best; his return to the same ideas in the later Castaway doesn’t have the same impact. But Walkabout is still a unique film that pulls together the nihilism of Zabriskie Point and Easy Rider, and then fashions an atavistic adventure that was somehow throught to be perfect fodder for British kids, who generally got more than they bargained for when approaching this rather revolutionary text.